I can’t take it any more. In one corner, we have PC pundits negatively reviewing Apple’s possibly-upcoming iPhone weeks before it’s announced — reviewing a product they know nothing about that may not even exist. (Incidentally, Microsoft’s new MadeUp Pro 2007 Edition — total crap. So is the new Imaginesoft NeverNeverLand iMadeUp Express.)

And in the other corner, we have a never-ending flood of reviews of Microsoft Windows Vista, weeks before third-party developers have shipped most of the drivers and application releases that would let them fully test it, bashing the new OS based on old, often misleading arguments. In a way, it’s only fair. After years of getting unfairly slammed in the press (remember the late-90s, when every Apple news story began with “the beleaguered computer maker”?), Apple now has some of its most vocal advocates helming the computer analysis for the New York Times, CBS, Chicago Sun-Times, Newsweek, and Wall Street Journal.

CDM Senior Editor W. Brent Latta sums up everything I’m about to say, only much more succinctly. “I’m not one to let Microsoft off the hook, but I want to know what is different about Vista – not what makes it a copycat of OS X. I have to use both OSes.”

Amen.

Now, I’m all for comparing Vista to OS X, because for the individual consumer, there is a choice. Apple hardware owners can even dual-boot Windows on their own machine, so they could theoretically make an afternoon of trying a new Microsoft OS — and wind up choosing both. With millions upon millions of users, operating systems are some of the most important technology on the planet. They’re worth criticizing. And it’s about time someone pointed out the real advantage of the Mac is its operating system, which often offers reliability and features well beyond Windows. That’s not just because Windows is “bigger” or more “backwards-compatible” and these features are impossible. For music, Core Audio and Core MIDI offer superior compatibility and performance versus Windows XP. The fact that XP is a usable OS and a favorite for many musicians suggests to me that Microsoft could and should compete with these features.

The only problem is, I’ve heard primarily two criticisms of Vista, and neither seems fair:

1. You’ll need to buy a new computer.
2. Microsoft copied everything from the Mac.

As near as I can tell, both of these arguments are based on incorrect assumptions about the OS, and both are largely superficial issues that fail to speak to the fundamental issues users do need to know when upgrading to the new OS. The latest review comes from The New York Times’ David Pogue, accompanied by an over-the-top, snarky video in which he repeats Apple talking points from this year’s Developer Conference (the review itself is relatively fair, but gets needlessly smug when comparing to Mac and, ironically, misses some points for concern on Vista):

Vista Wins on Looks. As for Lacks …
New York Times Video: Windows Vista

In fairness, I’m not sure the alternative is much better. You’ve seen the pro-Vista articles, which tend to repeat feature lists without analysis. (I don’t think this is the PC press’ fault, necessarily; it may have more to do with print deadlines, the need to put Vista on the cover to sell magazines, and a lack of solid information to write about coming from PR. But that doesn’t make this much more helpful, of course.) I just wish we had a middle ground — somewhere between Vista press releases and pro-Mac Vista bashing.

I think part of what has held back broader adoption of the Mac platform is that Windows users (sometimes rightfully, sometimes not) feel insulted by the reviews they get from Mac users, and that could certainly happen here. But most importantly, I just have to disagree with David Pogue’s arguments here.

Did Microsoft copy Apple? Absolutely. Even Windows fans pointed out to Microsoft in beta builds that the new Calendar was copying iCal’s color scheme and layout, a superfluous act of plagiarism that just seemed silly. (The company later toned-down that design and made it more Vista-like.) In the case of other examples, the copying should be welcome, as in the case of feedback on the number of files being moved or copied.

But here’s the line I take issue with: “Now, before the hate-mail tsunami begins, it’s important to note that Apple has itself borrowed feature ideas on occasion, even from Windows. But never this broadly, boldly or blatantly.” This just doesn’t seem true.

To me, the most blatant, intentional copy of the Mac was Windows95; Vista borrows only minor details. Apple has copied alt-tab switching (both the shortcut and the on-screen feedback), the OS X-style window button layout, right-button contextual menus, some keyboard shortcuts, and various other features. And you know what? Quite frankly, I wish software companies would copy more; too often, they fail to learn from what their competitors are doing.

More to the point, a lot of what Pogue seems to think are Mac copies were actually developed first by other companies or have become so ubiquitous as to say they’re not really the exclusive domain of the Mac any longer:


  1. System-wide search and Spotlight: System-wide search is not a new idea, no matter how you slice it; nor is placing a search window in multiple windows. But Microsoft announced many of these features in early Longhorn presentations, long before Apple shipped Tiger. Microsoft is also arguably more committed to hierarchical navigation and file storage than Apple; Apple philosophically argued that search would replace traditional organization, which to me is a little extreme. Anyway, I think it would be more useful to point out that Apple shipped first, and arguably implemented the feature better, than to try to accuse Microsoft of plagiarizing. Apple could easily win this category, but not for the reason Pogue cites.
  2. Flip 3D and Expose: Give me a break. Look, the moment anyone is rendering the UI to a 3D interface, they’re going to be tempted to add 3D effects, period. Unless you can make the argument that Apple invented 3D (they didn’t) or mapping bitmaps to quads (they didn’t), this is just a waste of time. And Flip 3D, in which you flip through open windows in 3D space, is much closer to the traditional Windows alt-tab interface (which Apple copied from Microsoft) than it is from Expose. Anyway, I’m not a big fan of using these methods to find windows in the first place. The question reviewers should be asking is, does this even improve productivity in the first place? (And spinning your wheels repeating old Mac/Windows arguments definitely doesn’t do wonders for productivity, especially if the basis of those arguments is distorted.)
  3. Sidebar Widgets and Dashboard: This is almost not worth arguing, it’s been argued so many times before. Microsoft talked widgets, again, before Tiger, and Stardock ObjectDesktop and Konfabulator each had widgets long before either Microsoft or Apple caught on. Sometimes good ideas spread, which is good for users: remember Stickies in MacOS 7.5, copied from a shareware developer, copied from the ubiquitous 3M pieces of paper? Actually, probably you don’t remember, because we’ve moved onto better ideas and have better things to talk about. I rest my case.
  4. Folder navigation: Now things get even stranger. Another Pogue example of Microsoft copying Apple: “A list of favorite PC locations appears at the left side of every Explorer window, which you can customize just by dragging folders in or out. You now expand or collapse lists of folders by clicking little flippy triangles.” Wait a minute … hierarchical folder views with collapsible views. You mean, like the Folder View already in XP in the exact same location? And in thousands of Windows and Mac applications? And in DOS file managers dating back to the 1980s? And the old Mac operating system? If anything, Microsoft copied the triangle instead of the plus icon, but that’s been in so many pieces of software for so long, it hardly seems worth mentioning. (And, incidentally, it’s a good idea: they’re easier to see.)

Software historians I’m sure could clarify these points even further, and demonstrate that Be, Atari, or Amiga machines had them first. Bottom line, people think “Mac” because Vista looks less ugly than XP. Look beyond the surface, though, and Aero looks to me like a 3D, glassy, transparent implementation of the XP interface — for better or for worse. And neither Windows nor Mac has really changed the interface much beyond their 90s design. Some would argue that’s a bad thing, but in the meantime, most of us are happy to reap the performance benefits of running UIs in 3D instead of 2D pixel buffers (as XP does) and to keep, you know, using our computers — not staring at the UI.

Speaking of the new UI, let’s dispense with this “you need a new computer to run Vista theory.” Generally speaking, upgrading older computers to run newer operating systems is always a decent rule of thumb. But early reports indicate an ideal Vista system would have a graphics card with 256MB of VRAM, a reasonably fast single or (better) dual-core processor, and 2GB of RAM. Funny, because that’s exactly the same specs I’d suggest for a PC or Mac to run music apps on older OSes. Non-issue.

Why am I so frustrated with these arguments? Because they miss out on significant issues on Vista that are specific to individual markets (this is you, digital musicians), and that largely have gone unanswered. For consumers, I’d like a better examination of hardware compatibility, performance, and functionality. But for us musicians in particular, there are a number of areas of concern, any one of which is far more important than arguing old, superficial “Mac vs. PC UI” points:

  1. Vista activation procedures: Microsoft has backed off of some of the more unpleasant Vista ownership requirements, but even in XP, having to regularly prove you have a real, unpirated version of the OS is a pain. What will this really be like under Vista?
  2. Audio DRM: One of the more disturbing features of Vista locks off some audio streams, so you can’t rip audio from copy-protected video and music. It’s not yet clear whether this will impact legitimate inter-app audio functionality in pro audio software.
  3. Driver signing requirements: Vista wants all audio and MIDI drivers to be “signed”, or validated by Microsoft for compatibility with the OS. Apparently, you can get past this requirement by entering an admin password, but only on the 32-bit OS — the 64-bit OS won’t even allow unsigned drivers installed by an admin account. What will validation cost hardware developers? What happens to legacy drivers that aren’t updated? What about open source, free, shareware, and independent development efforts? MIDI-Yoke, for instance, was developed by an independent developer, and it’s the only way of routing MIDI between music applications (a feature that’s been on the Mac in some form for many, many years). Will these requirements help in any way, or will they just break our hardware with no real benefit and send us screaming back to XP?
  4. Old driver and application compatibility: With many minor changes in Vista, it’s hard to even keep track of this, but we just don’t know what will run and what won’t — all the reason to expect a truly final review won’t be possible for some months.
  5. Device compatibility and legacy XP issues: XP is full of small but problematic issues with installing drivers, particularly over USB, like arbitrary Registry issues that cause drivers to refuse to install or stop working. What’s been fixed in Vista, and what remains?
  6. Performance and reasons to upgrade: Many musicians are concerned that Vista simply offers no compelling reason to upgrade: a new audio system is good news, but it may not work with pro apps, meaning there’s little pay-off for the compatibility cost involved in upgrading from XP.

Quite frankly, I just don’t know what the answer to these questions is. And I need to find out. So instead of writing premature reviews of Vista, I’m going to do my best to find as much actual information as I possibly can. And instead of trying to convince Windows users to switch to Mac, or Mac users to switch to Windows, I’m going to assume you can make some of those decisions for yourself. We have musicians using Mac, we have musicians using Windows, and we have musicians using Linux. My hope is that all of you can make great music with the platform you’ve chosen. I’m sure some of you XP users won’t switch to Vista; I’ll just do my best to make sure your decision is well-informed. Those of you making music on Be, Amiga, Atari, Mac OS 9, Commodore 64, home-built circuits — more power to you.

Here’s my question for you: for those of you considering running Vista — even if it’s just as a secondary OS on your proud, Apple logo-bearing MacBook — what do you want to learn?

I hope to, within the very near future, make good on my promise to test the OS so you don’t have to. So please feel free to keep sharing what you know, and for those of you staying away from the new release, what you want to know.

(Oh, and if anyone does want to do the Vista vs. BeOS shootout, I’m game! That’ll be more interesting.)

Previously:
MOTU Releases Audio Drivers for Vista/XP; Vista Driver Changes in Store
Vista Audio Improvement Details — For Consumers, At Least (lots of useful comments there, as well — more useful, in fact, than what I originally wrote!)

  • Tyler

    I agree with most of the points mentioned.

    I run a x64 version of windows XP on a custom built AMD machine. Everything has been running smoothly ever since my machines creation. I run 'god-knows-how-many' plugins, synths, and host audio apps, without any issues. Aside from the occasional hunting down of x64 drivers.

    For me, I see no reason to switch to Vista. I have not been given a reason to switch-simple as that.

    Though I hear that windows will try to 'force' people to switch to vista. If people start writing audio apps for ONLY vista, then I suppose I will have to switch. But, jus as people still write apps for all major OSes, then I do not see that happening.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I've heard no "Vista-only" talk yet; far from it, unless you use the DirectX 10 graphics API it doesn't look like there's anything that really is Vista-only.

    But what you might find is that 64-bit development efforts focus on Vista's 64-bit version, which sadly requires different versions than XP x64. Given how poor x64 support has been so far, it may only get worse, ironically making it more likely that XP x64 users will have to upgrade than 32-bit XP. Then again, what you've got is working now, so you're in good shape. By the time you're ready to upgrade, there may be more compelling reasons to go Vista.

  • Thomas Cermak

    Latency!

    What is the latency like (under asio or whatever)?

    - This is the most burning question in the mind of a laptop performing geek.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yep, yep, Thomas, latency (and overall audio system reliability, which can add other glitches, etc.) definitely tops my list.

    FYI, we have two systems to consider: ASIO, which appears to remain the audio system of choice, and Microsoft's new WASAPI, which replaces what you'll usually see called WDM, DirectKS, DirectX, or MME (there are some different things grouped in there, but generally all the previous built-in audio systems).

    I think things work at least as well as under XP, but what a lot of us want is something better, of course!

  • Oli

    people do take this os argument far to personally. hell, i'm even postin. i like to say that any religion is a sharp sword pointing away from us, so it's not surprising to see so many mac preachers strapping dynamite to their chest. many of our faith think the gates baby has much to atone for these days. i don't agree that it's totally the McDonalds of operating systems. do we really expect our OS to be as stable as the TI calculators we IR'ed our ASCII porn to our friends back in college? we've come a long way since our favorite 16bit ProTracker platform. our dreams are bigger than jamming our casio clock radio's keypad to the theme from Konami's classic NES tank game. many have found peace with OSX for their mission critical applications. some jackals still need silly stuff like, oh i don't know, photoshopm, and as far a Rosetta goes, they'd rather not. i never missed Fuity Loops when i was deep into Live on my G4. but try to give it props when you strip RZA's beat out of 36 Chambers track. nintendo's got us reachin' for our power gloves to praise them for embracing good ol'bluetooth and 802g. times are good for audio. hell, i'm curious about vista too but as of this post, i'm still waiting for things to settle. write something stupid like me if you want or lets go use what we got and be happy. the only pro mac comment i'll stick with is that a monopoly is dangerous in most things related to our species. look what it did to the environment. we're all guilty in some way. i love making freeware magic on a $500 dell. limitations promote creativity and that's one of the best parts of CDMu and Mo n' all the others. so i hope just to put a bit goof into a too serious argument. few of us are out there savin' the whales with our comments and dear god who's gonna save em :P much love everyone. you're all great to me.

  • http://matrixsynth.blogspot.com matrix

    You mean the Cisco iPhone right? ; )

  • http://matrixsynth.blogspot.com matrix

    Although that link mentions Linksys and not Cisco, Cisco owns the "brand" iPhone. Here's a post on Cisco and the iPhone. I read it a couple of days ago on one of the other blogs, but can't find it. Anyway, whatever Apple comes out with it won't be called the iPhone or Cisco can go after them. : )

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Heheheh … that's okay, I can't imagine anything coming out of Apple involving the word "phone", anyway — a bit too pedestrian of a word for them.

    I'm surprised more people haven't considered the possibility that the iPhone is yet another rumor false alarm. My money is on something iTV-related or, you know, Mac-related. Does anyone remember how we ALL got burned with Asteroid? That came from reliable-enough sources that subpoenas got served, and STILL didn't pan out. Anyway, as usual, I'll be more interested in the Mac platform itself than some new white Apple-branded gadget.

  • Adrian Anders

    <blockquote cite="Peter Kirn">I’ve heard no “Vista-only” talk yet

    I bet the first ones to do it will be KORG. They were the reason why I moved from 2000 (which I preferred) to XP, just so I could use the microKONTROL. I tried to explain to them that audio wise both versions were almost exactly alike. They just gave me "oh we only support the LATEST Microsoft OS… so there!"attitude.

    Maybe they'll not do it with the next batch of products, but almost certainly they'll do the switch within 2 years.

    The good news is that most small plug-in developers will continue to support XP until the VST SDK itself changes to being Vista only. Hell, there are some indies who still support 98SE. Now THAT's oldschool.

    The folks who rely on the larger companies are the ones who are going to feel the pressure to switch first, as often those are the ones who aren't going to see the value in supporting legacy OSs.

    Otherwise, kuddos Peter. A very well-written article in the context of what we were talking about before.

    ATA

  • http://na Ryan Grace

    well.

    I have been using vista for months and its been like a dream for me.

    I tried osx on a macbook and ironically had alot of technical problems, hardware problems (metal chassis is retarded and continously shocks you.. nice one apple!) and found the software selection (even of PPC apps) to be dissmal at best.

    I went back to pc and decided to jump into vista back before RC1. The best part is that the performance and stability are unmatched. It has been my best computing experience thus far. IT JUST WORKS.

    All my software works. If a poorly written program crashes, it doesnt effect the overall system and quickly responds to a close command. I have had no blue screens and the drivers arent even released yet.

    The audio performance is top notch. I am beating 2.0+ghz core2duo macbook pros with my 1.66 core1duo toshiba tablet. I get 18-19% in the ableton live 5 performance test in live 6.01.

    I can run 64 samples for 2ms latency like never before. I can have 100 tabs scrolling through firefox at 2ms and there are no pops or clicks. Many other apps can be running in the background. I can truly do it all at once without having to shut things down to make audio perform better. Its really remarkable how much better the audio performance is. My echo pcmcia drivers are even written for vista yet and they are flawless and powerful like never before.

    The new aero graphics are so sexy. People see them and always have something nice to say. the transparency is refreshing to see.

    The overall smoothness is incredible. no more jerking mouse when the computer is busy. its always smooth. performance is incredible. i have a 4gb sd card in my built in reader that i use with "readyboost".. this is killer… it stores an index of the files on your main drive which makes the drive perform much much more quickly… instead of scanning the index and then finding a file it is instantly loaded from the sd flash memory and the hardrive is reading the file is less than half the time.

    really speeds things up when you are maxing out your computer.

    the added features of vista are sick. the backup system does everything you need. the search feature is fast and flawless. the tablet pc integration is something apple is now stupidly behind on.. its really amazing.. it learns your handwriting. built in voice recognition… its all there.. it works.. it wasnt copied from the snooty kids at apple.

    security is tight as well. there is now torpark for windows so you can surf anonymously and securely (via tor network) so easily my grandma can do it.

    so thats it.. its so fast its scary. it will be coming on all new pc's now so soon you will get to see what I mean. microsoft did well with vista.

    apple needs to loose the snooty attitude and get to work on 10.5.

    consider the field leveled.

  • velocipede

    I'm a Mac user and advocate, but I agree that Pogue's recent video and even past Mac Expo banners have been over the top. However, I understand the psychology. I have many friends and family members who disparage Macs, or at best, just refuse to consider trying a Mac. The same people (usually not tech savvy) complain about issues that are non-issues on the Mac. It's like people choosing to always buy Fords because that's what they know how to drive… (Of course, the only other choice is Toyota in this analogy.)

    I want to like Vista and plan to buy it when I get a Mac Book Pro for work purposes, but the reason some of us feel so much antagonism towards Windows is because of Microsoft's monopolistic practices, which are hopefully mostly in the past. Sadly, Apple has followed the same road in recent years as it has dominated the market with its iPods. Public corporations are driven to behave like this by their shareholders and the law.

    What we really need is more viable OS alternatives. I wish I had the time/energy for Linux. At one point there was talk of an Asian OS. I look forward to a future where we have more choices and they are all good.

  • octatone

    how is dominating the market with ipods in a sea of ipod clones anyway similar to microsoft's past buy-out the competition monopolistic practices?

  • http://schtee.net Wonder Dog

    Brilliant article, Peter! I only wish more bloggers and computer-media types could be so logical and clear. The whole Mac vs. PC thing is stupid. (I admit, though, that Apple basing an entire ad campagin on bashing the PC is really retarded – do they really gain new customers with that? Or just make their current customers feel smug?)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, there are ways to advocate the Mac platform — and do it on its own merits, whatever the feelings might be on past OSes. I actually thought David Pogue might prove Vista wasn't copying Mac OS X by showing Vista features that don't quite live up to Mac features, and there are quite a few examples of that (though there are other Vista features I do like). Anyway, I'm going to focus on being a music technology advocate rather than Mac advocate or Windows advocate. That's where my heart is.

    Oh, and if you want a third option, there is some really great stuff on Linux, and you could easily build a custom performance setup that you can boot alongside both Windows and Mac. I just wish Linux didn't require quite so much configuration work, and that the Linux community would take a softer line on proprietary software — much of which could really benefit the platform.

  • bliss

    I'll say this from the perspective of a Mac advocate who lives with a Windows advocate. The Windows advocate in my home doesn't even know why she is a Windows advocate, all she knows is that's what's on her computer at work. Neither is she tech saavy or computer literate, she just uses Word and browses to CNN for news. Now, it didn't matter that before she purchased the PC that I wanted to show her an easier to maintain alternative because I know that she cannot be bother to check for spyware and viruses, not to mention configure the PC to her liking. She doesn't even know what she likes, she just knows what she is familiar with. Anyway, the only thing that has to happen for Vista to become widely adopted quickly is for businesses to adopt it quickly, the rest will take care of itself, regardless of critical opinion or worthy alternatives.

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    Peter – what's the hard line from the Linux community on proprietary software?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Paul, I'm sure you could address this issue far better than I could. My concern is the opposition of some kernel developers to any non-free code, even if it's needed to support hardware, and groups like the zealot-like Free Software Foundation supporting only free software efforts on the platform. I think this scares away some proprietary development, and (in many cases) makes it unnecessarily difficult for some desktop distros to be turnkey. This is far too complex an issue for me to gloss over it like that, so forgive me. It should really be a separate discussion. And I'm not even saying all-free distros are a bad idea; I understand the philosophy behind them and support the concept. I do think, though, that some of the efforts from the ubuntu and SUSE communities (and many others) to make the desktop OS friendlier to newcomers and those migrating from other platforms are a step in the right direction.

    Anyway, all that said, I certainly see three viable OS alternatives. Linux isn't necessarily the answer for everyone — but neither is Windows or Mac. It's absolutely worth considering. And I'd be even more curious to see how virtualized music software is running under Linux, particularly apps that lack copy protection like Cakewalk's stuff. Yes, I know, there are open source alternatives … but many of us already live in a mixed open source / proprietary environment on Mac and Windows and love it, so why not Linux, as well? (And previous comments aside, there's really nothing stopping you from doing that on Linux now. Most of the ambivalence I've heard from PC/Mac devs is just about market size / cost.)

  • VooD

    I completly agree with every point. But there´s also something I can´t stand about Vista…Logic 5.5.1 doesn´t work (at least for me)

  • velocipede

    "how is dominating the market with ipods in a sea of ipod clones anyway similar to microsoft’s past buy-out the competition monopolistic practices?"

    It's admittedly a much smaller issue, but Apple has actively prevented using downloads from other services with iPods. This was just an example.

    Apple also hold their users at arms length. The secrecy stuff is great for some things, but others, like the impending Logic update, are really causing a lot of heartache. Some people actually do need to know what features are planned so that they can plan other software purchases, etc. I'm not one of them…

    Anyway, I don't think Apple is that bad, but they are not all goodness and light, either.

  • http://na Ryan Grace

    to me the real monopolistic moves have been made by apple… the worst example being Logic Audio.

    the userbase was 75% pc users and they just gave them a big "f$%# you, buy a mac…"

    its funny because logic was probably the least appealing of all the audio software at the time. the only thing it had going for it were its built in effects. cubase/nuendo probably just wouldnt sell out so they had to settle for logic.

    now with ableton live 6, logic is looking like a real dog turd.

    the worst part is that before apple bought logic the development pace was fierce and there were many updates and new features.. then after the buyout.. it just fizzled away.. did some of the developers quit? how did apple drop the ball so completely on that?

    then there is the whole final cut pro thang.. but who cares now that premiere pro 2 integrates so well with photoshop and after effects there is one less reason to "but a mac"

    if apple really wanted to penetrate the market they would release OSX to all pc hardware and fight Vista head on. now that they are on intel they dont have much of an excuse not to. they just need to get off their a$$e$ and write some drivers.. hackers have already done alot of the work for them…

    but we all know they would never do that.. for whatever stupid reason.